Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

Living through the Boarders of the Illusory Real: The Psychological Interpretation of Joyce's A Painful Case in the Context of Lacan's Theories

Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

Living through the Boarders of the Illusory Real: The Psychological Interpretation of Joyce's A Painful Case in the Context of Lacan's Theories

Article excerpt


The Lacanian reading of A Painful Case provides a foundation for James Joyce's characterization. It explains clearly some details within the story which reveal the fact that the reason behind Mr. Duffy's engagement in an ideal fantasy world is his obsession with "ideal ego". This easy aims at reading A Painful Case - a short story from Dubliners - through employing terminology from Lacanian psychoanalysis. It will show how the protagonist's interactions, reactions and in general life style is affected by the intricate tensions between his experience of the imaginary order, the symbolic order and the Real.

Key words: James Joyce; A Painful Case; Psychoanalysis; Lacan


Jacques Lacan (1901-1981) is the Freudian theorist who rewrote Freud's psychological principles many years after Freud, and tried to give a more vivid picture of the construction of the human psyche. He dealt with the crucial questions in regard with the human subject, the formation of the self, his unconscious desires and the consequences of his arrival to society. However, Lacan's name is more a reminder of his well - known comparison between the human structure of the unconscious and language. This definition is the joint between psychoanalysis and post-structuralism, and emphasizes the fact that the unconscious like language - "is composed less of signs - stable meanings - than of signifiers" (Eagleton, 2008, p. 146). This principle is regarded as the basic framework of Lacan's theories which has provided the capability for his psychoanalytical theories to be expanded and applied into various fields such as philosophy, psychology, literary criticism, and even sociology and politics.

In this article, it is intended first to discuss Lacan's basic principles of the subject's psychological growth. For this purpose, the three significant concepts, "the imaginary order", "the symbolic order" and "the Real" will be taken particularly into consideration. Finally, the applicability of those Lacanian concepts on the literary texts will be evaluated through a critical review of the well - known short story A Painful Case by James Joyce.


On the basis of Lacan's principles, the subject goes through a process of psychological growth in order to reach a unified self and fill the gap within his essential dis - unified and split self. Lacan shows that the subject undergoes three stages, namely "The mirror stage", "the imaginary state" and "the symbolic order" through the process of the psychic growth. These stages are interrelated and the subject may not experience one without feeling the existence or the effects of other stages. In other words, they shape the framework from which the subject experiences the world and gets in touch with its events (Fink, 1995).

Lacan used the term imaginary order, in order to describe the subject's understanding of the world around and its position in it, as an infant. It is because of the abundance of the childish images with which it identifies that Lacan calls this stage "The imaginary". It is the time that the subject recognizes itself as unified with all the objects around and in this way, it experiences a "fictive sense of unitary selfhood by finding something in the world with which it can identify" (Eagleton, 2008, p. 143).

This dependency and shapelessness ends with the subject's arrival to what Lacan calls "the mirror stage. This stage of psychological growth begins when the child sees his/her own image in the mirror. Lacan believes that this identification is a mere misperception and the child who assumes that it has found its unified self, would learn later that what he sees in the mirror is just an image, a reflection - not the real self. This movement from fragmentation to totality is the beginning of the formation of the ego. It should be noted that "this identification is crucial, as without it... the infant would never get to the stage of perceiving him/herself as a complete or whole being" (Homer, 2005, p. …

Author Advanced search


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.